“Good morning! Happy morning!” Rabbi Avraham Wolff exclaimed, with a big smile, as he walked into the Chabad synagogue in Odesa on a recent morning.
Russian missiles had just struck an oil refinery in the Ukrainian city, turning the sky charcoal gray. Hundreds were lining up outside his synagogue hoping to receive a kilo of matzah each for their Passover dinner tables. The unleavened flatbread, imperative at the ritual meal known as a Seder, is now hard to find in war-torn Ukraine amid the war and a crippling food shortage.
But the rabbi wanted no challenge to get him down — be it the lack of matzah or that he was missing his wife and children who had fled the Black Sea port for Berlin days ago.
“I need to smile for my community,” Wolff said. “We need humor. We need hope.”
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews have fled while about 80% remain in Ukraine, according to estimates from Chabad, one of the largest Hasidic Jewish organizations in the world. Inside and outside Ukraine, a nation steeped in Jewish history and heritage, people are preparing to celebrate Passover, which begins sundown on April 15. It’s been a challenge, to say the least.
The holiday marks the liberation of Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt, and their exodus under the leadership of Moses. The story is taking on special meaning for thousands of Jewish Ukrainian refugees who are living a dramatic story in real time.